Wednesday, May 20, 2009

It Was Fun While It Lasted!

It is becoming apparent that Congress is going to tighten its regulatory grip on the credit card industry, and force lenders to clean up the way they lend money to consumers. The new rules will make it tougher for the credit card companies to make money off of people with shaky credit, which means the lenders will have to start making more money off of people who pay on time.

People with good credit (like me) have not needed to worry about interest rates or paying annual fees in the past. My interest rate is 7 percent, but I've never paid any attention to it because my card is paid off each month. And I haven't seen an annual fee in years. On the rare occasion when I've had one imposed, I've threatened to cancel my account, and the lender has always agreed to waive the fee.

Now, that will all change. The credit card folks are going to have to start charging fees, and my interest rate will go up. But the thing that really bothers me is that this will likely be the death knell of the credit card rewards program.

I have written about this before. Credit card rewards are largely paying for my family's summer vacation this year. They have also flown me to Florida at least a half-dozen times over the years. I have most of my monthly bills - phone/internet/cable, car insurance, cell phone - being paid on my credit card so I can rack up points and pay them all with one check instead of 4 or 5 checks. I will miss the perk, and hopefully as the credit card rewards diminish, banks will start offering rewards for debit card customers instead. I'm not sure why they would, but there's always hope!

All personal greed aside, I think credit card regulation is probably a good thing for the nation. We are still in major hangover mode after a 20-year party of free spending, and a little bit of forced austerity will be good - not only for consumers, but also for the lenders themselves. I mean - I've been largely unemployed for almost a year and a half, and I continue to receive credit card offers. American Express essentially GAVE me 500 dollars to sign up for a gold card, right around the time AMEX went asking the government for stimulus money. Who am I to turn that down?

One of my favorite hobbies is figuring out ways to use my credit card/frequent flyer points to get free stuff. Just yesterday, I was trying to brainstorm a quick summer getaway for me and the Missus. I had decided not to pursue it, but if we get into "Use 'em or lose 'em" mode, then I'm definitely gonna use them!


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